The division of responsibility in feeding children developed by renowned dietitian Ellen Satter are the adults decide when they will eat, where they will eat and what they will eat, children get to decide how much they will eat from what is offered. This is why we have structured sit down meal times that provide a warm comforting container in which your children can freely choose from the food that has been lovingly prepared for them. We encourage families to also hold space for sit down meals in their homes.
In our programs we expect the children all sit down together when we eat snacks and lunch. Each child gets a place at the table or tarp and we remain there as a group until the meal is over, some children are not quite finished and continue eating while others pack up their dishes or containers to get ready to play. We understand that learning to remain seated while eating is a process that does not happen overnight but it is a lesson and a life skill that will create the foundation for lifelong healthy eating habits. To help children stay at the table longer the teachers will engage them in various activities, storytelling being the primary one. Meals are an opportunity for teachers and children to share stories of their lives outside of our programs and for their classmates to learn to listen to those stories. It is through these exchanges of story that the children build relationships with each other and with their teachers. Sometimes a teacher might bring a special storybook to share with the children while they eat which encourages children to remain still, quiet and just listen, this also supports not talking while eating as not only is it good manners but also increases the risk of choking. Toward the end of the meal as some children get antsy but others are not quite done teachers may do some finger plays with the children that build fine motor and literacy skills. We want meal time to be an enjoyable part of the children’s day, one that they look forward to.
Children have ample opportunity to work up a good appetite! Meals are spaced 2-3 hours apart and we do not allow the children to snack between meals. Instead we hold consistent routines so that children can trust that food is coming soon as well as gain an awareness of their hunger cue. Part of developing a healthy appetite is by recognizing what it feels like inside our bodies when we are hungry as well as when we are full. Children who are grazers may not learn these different internal cues and are at greater risk of dietary struggles as they grow up. We want to support the foundations for lifelong healthy eating habits.
At our programs parents are responsible for providing children with a nutritious lunch and we provide a morning and afternoon snack. In order to support healthy eating habits we do not allow juice boxes, candy or refined sugar baked goods in our center if we notice one of these items in your child’s lunch we will kindly leave it in their backpack for them to enjoy once they are at home. Outside of these items it is up to your child to decide what they will eat from the food they have been offered and in what order. Teachers will not coach children to save their bar for last, eat two more bites or to finish all of their lunch, we provide an environment that is supportive to eating and provide ample opportunity for children to eat. We encourage parents to set their children up for success by providing small portions of a wide variety of whole foods so that they may choose. Large containers are cumbersome for little hands and in some cases all of the options you have provided may not fit in your child’s space at our lunch table. It is our goal to put children in charge of their eating by providing win-win situations.
4 Quick Tips for Healthy Eating Habits and Fewer Food Struggles:
- Avoid offering food or treats as a reward or punishment.
“If you eat all your dinner you can have desert. “
Instead, extend meal time with conversation by sharing stories of the day or plans for the next day.
- All children experience “food jags”.
Periods in which they will only eat one or two things.
Continue to offer a wide variety of foods even if your child only eats all of one thing. Trust it will pass as their body continues to send them hunger signals.
- Remember the principals of healthy eating.
You decide when, where and what your child eats.
Save yourself the power struggle and let them decide how much. You’ve done an awesome job by providing healthy options and a positive environment.
- Keep it simple and mix it up.
Whole foods, lightly cooked and a variety of foods at each meal.
Use Canada’s Food Guide for ideas of different foods to offer and let your child choose from what is offered.
- Step back and find some perspective.
If it seems like your child isn’t eating enough day to day examine their intake week to week
Children’s bodies are growing and changing so much one day they may eat every bit of their lunch and the next hardly touch it. That’s normal and nothing to worry about.
If you are experiencing feeding difficulties or food struggles with your little one at home please let us know. Any one of our staff would be happy to help; we’ve all been there and know how challenging it can be. Many of us put tremendous pressure on ourselves to feed our children well and it can be stressful when it seems like it’s going to waste. Trust that in the long term if you are role modeling healthy eating for your children they will grow up to have a positive relationship with food.